The Rollling StonesLadies & Gentlemen The Rolling StonesEagle Vision
In surmounting the difficulties arising from recording the album Exile on Main Street
(Rolling Stones, 1972) and the hasty prep work necessary for its release, the Rolling Stones must have known it had something unique to decide to make a movie from the tour to support it. After all, it didn't go to such lengths when it returned to the road back in 1969, from whence came Get Your Ya Ya's Out
(London/Abcko,1970). Viewing the DVD of Ladies & Gentlemen The Rolling Stones
bears out the unerring accuracy of the group's instincts.
The Stones have never been a better band than the one that hit the road in summer of 1972 and it may have never been so directly in the spotlight as during those months either. After all, this was before the days of the mega-rock and roll tour (this perhaps the first of that scope) and its contemporary rivals Bob Dylan
and The Beatles
were at a low profile and no longer a band, so singer Mick Jagger, guitarist Keith Richards and company commanded attention like never before (and arguably never since).
Whatever drawbacks arise from the technology of the times (despite remastering from multi-track tapes), both audio and video-wise, are moot when absorbing the performance content here. Taken from four different stops in Texas, the presentation may not be tremendously creative, but the various segments from different shows are smoothly interwoven, without editing clashes of any kind. From the very start of the ever-so-appropriate opener "Brown Sugar," it's clear we're seeing the rolling Stones, upon which all the stereotypes are based. Jagger's glittered androgyny with a vengeance is the animated elemental from which caricatures arise, while the intensity of Richards' focus is channeled strictly through his guitar (though he's really no less of a peacock in his attire, scarf and all).
By the half-way point of the "Bitch" that follows, the frontman often becomes a distraction from the music action going on around him, pelvic and derriere thrusts and all (his between song patter is mercifully brief throughout). Fleeting shots of guitarist Mick Taylor
appear and not always when he's soloing, while equally quick cuts reveal the joy drummer Charlie Watts
exhibits whacking away. The horns of trumpeter Jim Price and saxophonist Bobby Keys escalate to an earthy majesty here, while the latter's solos reveal how the Stones were able to replicate live the not quite clean mix of instruments that made Exile
and, in truth, its predecessors Let It Bleed
(London/Abkco, 1969) and Sticky Fingers
(Rolling Stones, 1971) so distinctive.
Nevertheless, the theatre here is undeniable and not just when Jagger and Richards share a microphone on the ersatz country tune "Dead Flowers." While bassist Bill Wyman is as unobtrusive visually as he is sonically, and the brilliant pianist Nicky Hopkins might just as well be invisible, what's on display here is a supremely confident musical unit at the height of its powers and well aware of it. No doubt the musicians are well-rehearsed and the stage production equally prepared in its sophistication, but there remains a spontaneity that informs this music that takes it to an even higher level of electricity, even though little improvisation occurs besides set solos.
The new material, such as the languorous "Tumblin' Dice" and the exultant Richards vehicle "Happy," comes across as true and raunchy as "Rip This Joint" in all its frenetic glory. The musicianly instincts of the Stones are as alive on stage in the studio as the set unfolds: mid-point finds a relatively low-key interval including the blues of Robert Johnson's "Love in Vain" and the balladry of "You Can't Always Get What You Want," before a final burst of speed and intensity kicks in through "All Down the Line" and "Midnight Rambler." While all this comes naturally to the group, it's working hard to make it all happen and the expenditure is obvious from the free-flowing perspiration that causes layers of clothing to be doffed as the show progresses, to the pinpoint accuracy of Taylor's nasty notes (those in contrast to his angelic stoicism).
During the latter, Jagger again becomes a focal point to the detriment of the music, not to mention the rest of the banddespite the overt blues overtones that arise from the arrangementbut he has to get out of the way of a veritable juggernaut during "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and "Street Fighting Man:" arguably two of the greatest of all Stones rock tunes, this septet gives them a power every bit on par with the opening of the show, a remarkable statement to make given the anticipation at hand.